Africa really is a country, especially when matters of female autonomy and the policing of women’s bodies is involved. Across the continent, there are overt and covert efforts to censor the freedoms of women and vilify the words and activities women have claimed for themselves. It is often insidious, like the widespread vilification of the word ‘slayqueen’, a word whose origins began on Instagram as a way for women to admire each other, right up to the many instances of law enforcement agents trying to blame the way women dress for sexual assault and rape. If you thought this kind of gender policing stopped at the citizen level, Tanzania is here to prove you wrong.
News broke yesterday that the Tanzanian parliament, its highest legislative body, recently announced an informal edict banning women (including female Tanzanian parliamentarians) who wear artificial nails and eyelashes from entering the parliament and conducting business within its buildings. This edict was announced, without a lick of irony we must add, by the Speaker, Joe Ndugai, who also informed journalists covering Parliamentary proceedings that he was also in talks with experts to decide whether to also ban women who wear ‘excessive’ makeup from gaining access parliament.
We will not even discuss how this new ‘law’ is clearly in violation of all Tanzanian and AU human rights laws and will scarcely survive any proper legislative challenge, and is purely driven by ignorant misogyny, and discuss the reasons Mr. Ndugai has given for his ban. The Tanzanian Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Dr. Faustine Ndugulile addressed the Tanzanian parliament and explained that fake lashes, fake nails and skin bleaching cause a health hazard to women in the country and by extension put undue pressure on the government. He backed this up by bringing stats that suggested that 700 women who presented health problems at the Muhimbili National Hospital were found to have used either fake lashes, fake nails or bleaching creams.
We will be the first to admit that Eurocentric beauty standards and colourism have turned bleaching into a widespread epidemic, one that causes lasting health hazards and affects a disproportionate number of African women, but to lump it with fake nails and eyelashes as way to buttress a pointless ban is disingenuous. And even then, 700 women in a population of 55 million seems a ridiculous reason to put a ban on parliamentarians from using physical adornments, but clearly, logic is not a prerequisite for law-making in Tanzania.
Let us just call this by its real name, unchecked misogyny. How a woman, a member of parliament no less, chooses to present herself is no one’s business but hers. In a country that is also contemplating banning contraception, because it is apparently a ‘Western’ thing in clear violation of the Maputo Protocol, we must not hide behind concern and address the misogyny head on. The women parliamentarians of Tanzania must fight this ridiculous ban, and if Ndugai has to be removed from office in the process, then so be it.
Misogynists should be allowed to hold power in 2018 anyways.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.